The ongoing revelations of scandals in the Catholic church are appalling.
That one child was ever hurt, much less hundreds or even thousands, is
unconscionable. That they were hurt by priests who were supposed to be
serving them, and that the church has continued to cover up these abuses,
are a grave injustice.
Like everyone, I am deeply saddened by the hurt that has been done by
church people, and with everyone in the church, apologize to anyone who was
hurt. I hope that the church indeed makes sure this violence never happens
again, and that our church finally learns to reject its love of power,
domination, secrecy and sexism to become the community of peace and
nonviolence that Jesus calls us to be.
If the church is finally to become a community of peace and nonviolence,
following in the footsteps of its nonviolent founder, then it must of course
ordain women and married people and include everyone in its embrace. It must
always side with the poor and the oppressed in the struggle for justice.
But the acid test of the church’s transformation will be its final
rejection of the so-called just war theory and its complete embrace of
Gospel nonviolence. Until the church absolutely rejects its support of war
and nuclear deterrence, it will not reflect the nonviolence of Jesus, and
will continue to support the ultimate child abuse, the murder of children
Today, the church reflects the culture’s false spirituality of violence,
the belief that war is necessary, that war is justified, that war is even
blessed by God. Over the centuries, the church modeled itself on the empire,
created a similar leadership based on domination and “lording it over
others,” rejected the Sermon on the Mount as impractical, invented the just
war theory, and lived off the comforts of the culture of violence instead of
risking the challenge of Gospel nonviolence, the cross and the resurrection.
Last November, nearly all the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to bless and
support the bombing and mass murder of the people of Afghanistan. We know
that some 4000 civilians were killed during the first two months of that
U.S. war. Hundreds of children were killed by the United States, and the
Catholic bishops condoned their murder.
Talk about child abuse!
The church cannot condemn child abuse by pedophiles and yet bless the
government’s murder of children in its wars, if it wants to be consistent
and faithful to Christ. Until the church rejects war once and for all, and
adopts the consistency of Gospel nonviolence, it will continue to lose any
moral credibility, and children around the world will continue to suffer and
The heart of Christianity is the nonviolent Jesus who commanded that we not
only love one another, but that we put away the sword and love even our
enemies. His teaching is too radical for any of us to handle. Yet if
Christians would sincerely follow Christ, they must renounce killing and
violence in whatever form they take.
Gandhi said Jesus was the most active practitioner of nonviolence in
history, and the only people who don’t know that Jesus was nonviolent are
There is no way around the difficult, radical nonviolence of Christ. It is
the center of all his teachings, and until we fully embrace his nonviolence,
we will continue to fall far short of his vision.
But if the church and all Christians adopt Christ’s nonviolence, love our
enemies, and resist our country’s wars, we will not only learn integrity and
fidelity, we may even help stop the killings and destruction of the planet.
In the end, all communities of faith, including the churches, synagogues
and mosques, will play a critical role in saving us from the brink of global
destruction. The religious communities can dare to stand with our country’s
enemies, see the humanity in their eyes, love them and defend them.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement showed, the
churches can play a key role in practicing active nonviolent resistance to
systemic injustice and war, and build the grassroots movement for social
change. They can become prophetic communities that denounce war and
injustice, and announce the vision of a more just, peaceful society where
war, poverty and nuclear weapons no longer exist.
The church must renounce its complicity in the ultimate child abuse of war,
beginning with our government’s mass murder of children in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Palestine, and Colombia. When the church gives itself in the prophetic
defense of all victims of war, and confronts the Pentagon and Bush’s war,
then it will discover true integrity and authenticity, and resemble the
radical vision of its founder.
John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist and author of 17 books on peace
and justice, including LIVING PEACE (Doubleday) and JESUS THE REBEL (Sheed
and Ward). See: www.fatherjohndear.org